RISING DAMP

British Situation Comedy

Rising Damp, the classic Yorkshire Television situation comedy series set in a run-down northern boarding house, was originally screened on ITV between 1974 and 1978 and has continued to be revived on British television at regular intervals ever since, always attracting large audiences (many of whom were no doubt lodgers at one time or another in similarly seedy houses). Created by writer Ernie Chappell, the series depicted the comic misadventures and machinations of Rupert Rigsby, the embittered down-at-heel landlord who constantly spied on the usually very innocent private lives of an assortment of long-suffering tenants.

The success of Rising Damp depended largely upon the considerable comic talent of its star, Leonard Rossiter, who played the snooping and sneering Rigsby. Rossiter had first demonstrated his impeccable coming timing in the same role (though under the name Rooksby) in the one-off stage play Banana Box, from which the television series was derived. Rossiter rapidly stamped his mark upon the money-grubbing, lecherous, manneristic landlord, making him at once repulsive, vulnerable, paranoid, irrepressible, ignorant, cunning, and above all hilarious. Sharing his inmost fears and suspicions with his cat Vienna, he skulked about the ill-kempt house, bursting in on tenants when he thought (almost always mistakenly) that he would catch them in flagrante and impotently plotting how to seduce university administrator Miss Jones, the frustrated spinster who was the reluctant object of his desire.

Rigsby's appalling disrespect for the privacy of his lodgers and his irrepressible inquisitiveness was the moving force behind the storylines, bringing together the various supporting characters who otherwise mostly cut lonely and inadequate, even tragic, figures. The supporting cast was in fact very strong, with Miss Jones played in highly individualistic style by the respected stage actress Frances de la Tour, the confused, naive medical student Alan played by an ingenuous but appealing Richard Beckinsale, and Philip, the proud but smug son of an African tribal chief, played by Don Warrington. Only Beckinsale had not appeared in the original stage play. Other lodgers later in the series were Brenda (Gay Rose) and Spooner (Derek Newark).

The frustrations and petty humiliations constantly suffered by the various characters, coupled with their dingy surroundings, could easily have made the series a melancholy affair, but the deft humour of the scripts married to the inventiveness and expertise of the performers kept the tone light, if somewhat hysterical at times, and enabled the writers to explore Rigsby's various prejudices (concerning sex, race, students, and anything unfamiliar) without causing offence. In this respect, the series was reminiscent of the techniques employed in Steptoe and Son and by Johnny Speight and Warren Mitchell in the "Alf Garnett" series, though here there was less emphasis on invective and more on deliberately farcical comedy. One occasion on which the series did come unstuck was when fun was had at the expense of an apparently fictional election candidate named Pendry, who was described as crooked and homosexual--unfortunately there was a real Labour member of parliament of the same name and Yorkshire Television was obliged to pay substantial damages for defamation as a result.

The success of the television series led to a film version in 1980, but this met with mixed response, lacking the conciseness and sharpness of the television series and also lacking the presence of Beckinsale, who had tragically died of a heart attack at the age of 31 the previous year. Rossiter himself went on to star in the equally popular series The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin before his own premature death from heart failure in 1984.

-David Pickering


Rising Damp
Photoc ourtesy of the British Film Institute

CAST

Rupert Rigsby..................................... Leonard Rossiter
Alan Moore...........................................
Alan Beckinsale
Ruth Jones
....................................... Frances de la Tour
Philip Smith
..........................................Don Warrington
Spooner
.................................................. Derek Newark
Brenda..........................................................
Gay Rose

PRODUCERS Ian MacNaughton, Ronnie Baxter, len Luruck, Vernon Lawrence

PROGRAMMING HISTORY

Yorkshire Television (ITV)
28 Episodes
2 September 1974                                      Pilot Episode December 1974-January 1975                        5 Episodes November 1975-December 1975                     8 Episodes
27 December 1976                              Christmas Special
April 1977-May 1977                                     7 Episodes
April 1978-May 1978                                     6 Episodes

 

See also British Programming